I picked up a book today I didn’t want to love. It had been recommended to me by a friend some time ago called 7, by Jen Hatmaker. I was babysitting my nephews and saw it on my sister-in-law’s table. She’d just finished it and yes, I could borrow it. Which she never would have agreed to had she known I’d spend most of the day neglecting her sweet cherubs because of it.
The premise of the book is, well, let me just copy and paste from Jen’s website:
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. In the spirit of a fast, they pursued a deeply reduced life in order to find a greatly increased God.
Based on that description, you might agree that it’s a book to be avoided. It might stir something up, something I’ve been really good at burying.
You see, I’ve done this 7 thing before, where you challenge your choices through the lens of the gospel. I’ve fasted and I’ve lived a life in the spirit of a fast. When you live by the message of Jesus, to surrender everything to follow him, it
can will force you to make huge changes in your life. My family was shaken and, as Jen refers to it, messed up by the challenge. At that time in our life, we were personally convicted to sell everything we owned to do cross-cultural work in Ghana.
For the sake of full disclosure we did not sell our red couch, chair and ottoman, most of our books and, strangely, a bread basket. These remaining possessions were distributed among our friends most likely to return them. For the sake of over-sharing, I’m sitting on the red couch as I write and we just used the bread basket at supper.
Otherwise, we were shaken to the core.
You would think that when you experience such life-changing conviction that your life would STAY CHANGED. I would like to believe that you cannot return to the person you were. The Spirit wouldn’t let you, would he?! Haven’t we been freed? But as I read through the pages of 7, when I hear how Jen’s fasting from excess opened her eyes and heart to others’ needs, I am troubled by my recurring blindness. I see how I have placed a sheathing over the eyes of my heart. I’m hoping it isn’t as thick as it was before, but it has effectively confined my compassion.
There’s a crack in that “protective covering” as I have been deeply affected by chapters 1-6 of this book, read today in one sitting, held in one hand while pretending to play Thomas the Train with the other. I was distracted, recalling what can happen when you feel like this…
Having done this before, there are justifications I’ve since made that need to be overcome. I remember treating our house in Ghana like a dorm room. Zero excess. No decor, no extras, not even curtains on the windows. I never thought I was saving the world because of it, but I did it out of respect for those outside my door without homes. Then my Ghanaian friends told me to settle in already. It made them uneasy that I wasn’t making my house a home, that maybe I wasn’t committed to ministering there. This actually caused me to re-evaluate my thinking. Did this mean I didn’t have to go without in order to serve others?
As silly as it seemed when my Ghanaian friend told me to put up curtains in my windows, I realized that they didn’t want me to suffer needlessly. They wouldn’t live without given the choice, why would I? Since those convictions were thrown into question, I was thrown for a loop, and the pendulum swung the other way.
It’s been 4 years since we moved back to Canada. The first 6 months were spent in shock, so let’s say 3 1/2 years. Still, I’m surprised at how quickly my old habits came back. How I bristle at interruption – a phone call or knock on the door – instead of seeing each moment as God weaving our lives into the fabric of his will. How I turn first to retail or snack therapy, instead of prayer, to help me out of emotional crisis. How I want to set up policies and procedures to fix problems instead of recognizing the unique way the Spirit moves in every situation. How I long for approval from other people. I fit prayers in here and there instead of first and foremost. I worry instead of trust…
My Dad said the most benevolent thing to me when I discussed this tension within me. First he quoted Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” which is probably the most empathetic verse that Paul wrote. Then my Dad added, “But Loreli, cosmically, you are not the same person, even if you have the same struggles.” He reminded me that the circumstances of my life have changed because of the work of the Spirit. Despite my failures, my desire to walk close to Jesus remains the same. The fact that there is even tension within me is the work of the Spirit. I can’t go back. I won’t.
The tricky part is moving forward.
Read the book. Even if you really don’t want to.